We have already arrived at the fourth Sunday of Advent. If you have not made done so, I encourage you to make plans for an indi-vidual sacramental Confession during this last week of Advent. You can find the schedule in this bulletin.
This week I want to emphasize some possible Christmas traditions that you and your family may like to add to the ones you already do.
1. The Nativity Scene: this practice was made popular by St. Francis of Assisi. Many people are collectors of various styles and types of Nativity scenes. Taking time as a family to put out a Nativity scene and added the various characters on the particular liturgical days enhances the devotion and meaning of this practice (ie: the manger and animals several days be-fore Christmas; Jesus and Mary shortly before Christmas; the Christ-child, shepherds and angels Christmas eve; and the Ma-gi at Epiphany – January 6 or Epiphany Sunday). With each addition the family can gather for prayer with may include the litany of the Virgin Mary or St. Joseph, a prayer to the Holy Family, the rosary or some other suitable prayer.
2. The Family Rosary: taking time to pray a five-decade rosary or even one decade each day will help your family grow in during the remaining days of Advent and in the Christmas Season. Maybe, if you are not doing this now, it will become a habit that will happen every day!
3. Christmas Baking: my grandmother and my mother have been prolific Christmas bakers. I have many happy memories of coming home from school smelling something good in the kitchen. Of course I would try a few (too many!) of whatever type of cookie was warm on the counter. Christmas baking is a great activity to bring the whole family together. Also, I do not think moms should let dad just sit there during Christmas baking. They can crack eggs, mix ingredients and try the warm cookies, too. Notice I did not say dads should put items in the oven or take them out. I know that some dads, but not all, are challenged in this area.
4. Family Prayer asking for God’s blessing upon a Christmas Tree: Here is a possible blessing you could use:
Dear God, two thousand years ago, You sent Your Son, Jesus into this world to teach us the power of your love and the meaning sacrifice for the redemption of the human family. As we raise this tree, we remember His birth and the meaning of His life for us. We ask you to bless this tree and make it a symbol of our celebration of Jesus' birth and our gratitude for His sacrifice. May the joy this tree offers and the gifts we place under it remind us of the many gifts You have given us.We ask Your blessings upon our loved ones, this day and always. Amen. (Credit (with edits by Fr. Kasel): National Shrine of Our Lady of Providence, USA).
5. Family Prayer at the time of gathering to celebrate Christmas: it is very important that family gatherings keep in mind the reason for gathering: the newborn Christ-child! I suggest prayer that goes beyond the before and after meal prayers. I suggest the family make it a priority to attend Holy Christmas Mass together and pray the rosary at some point during the gathering (especially the Joyful Mysteries).
6. Christmas hymns and sharing gratitude: singing Christmas hymns brings everyone together and enlivens hearts; also give each member of the family a chance to share with others any reasons why he or she is thankful to God and others in the family.
7. Sharing of gifts: this wonderful family custom should be offered and received as a sign of mutual love, respect and gratitude. Gift-giving should in some way reflect our own personal gratitude and love for the greatest gift of all time: Jesus! Take time emphasize this with children and allow family members to use words during the sharing of gifts.
These are just a few ideas for your families and I am sure that many of you have some wonderful practices that I have not mentioned. If you do, please pass them on to me.
Through the intercession of the Virgin Mary, St. Joseph, St. Michael and St. Paul, may God bless you, your families and our parishes!